One woman and her family got the best Christmas present just in time for the holiday season — a repaired home.
Melissa Gonzalez, her boyfriend and their 3-year-old daughter had been displaced for more than a year after Hurricane Irma. UPC Insurance initially adjusted their claim at just $11,000, a fraction of what Gonzalez said was needed to repair major roof damage and mold throughout the home.
Gonzalez filed a complaint with the Department of Financial Services and then hired an independent public adjuster to battle the insurance company.
By August, UPC agreed to pay around $70,000 for repairs. Work was completed, and the family moved back in just in time for the holidays.
“I’m more excited than a little kid on Christmas morning,” Gonzalez said.
According to Florida DFS data, there were 590 claims complaints after Irma against UPC.
In total, more than 7,000 complaints were filed with the state against more than a dozen insurance companies. Complaints range from underpayment of claims, to claim handling delays and even cancellation of policies.
Michael Barry, with the industry funded Insurance Information Institute, said one explanation for claim issues after a major weather event is that some adjusters are from out of state and not familiar with local construction costs.
It’s not known why UPC insurance initially assessed Gonzalez claim at a level lower than what was needed for repairs, or whether or not the company sent an adjuster from out of state. The company did not respond to requests for comment.
Barry said in total the insurance industry paid out more than $11 billion in claims after Irma.
“Given the magnitude of the storm, it’s pretty good when you look at it that 92 percent of the claims from Irma are closed now,” Barry said.
But he pointed out that the small percentage of Floridians who do not have a satisfactory resolution is still as high as 70,000 to 80,000.
“There’s still a lot of people that are still out there feeling the after effects of hurricane Irma who have opened claims and either are disputing them or litigating them,” Barry said.
Barry’s advice to consumers is to first try to go through your insurance companies’ internal appeals process to resolve a claim dispute because he said the companies do want to retain their customers.
Gonzalez decided to switch insurance carriers after the experience she had with UPC and is paying a little bit higher for her premium for more coverage.
The Florida Division of Financial Services can also assist in opening communication with your company. By law, insurers must respond to a complaint within 20 days.
If you go the public adjuster route, some of your claim settlement will be paid to that person.
UPC did not respond to WINK News requests for comment.